Thursday, February 26, 2009

Dirty Little Angels, by Chris Tusa

Release date: March 2009

From the author:
Set in the slums of New Orleans, among clusters of crack houses and abandoned buildings, Dirty Little Angels is the story of sixteen year old Hailey Trosclair. When the Trosclair family suffers a string of financial hardships and a miscarriage, Hailey finds herself looking to God to save her family. When her prayers go unanswered, Hailey puts her faith in Moses Watkins, a failed preacher and ex-con. Fascinated by Moses's lopsided view of religion, Hailey, and her brother Cyrus, begin spending time down at an abandoned bank that Moses plans to convert into a drive-through church. Gradually, though, Moses's twisted religious beliefs become increasingly more violent, and Hailey and Cyrus soon find themselves trapped in a world of danger and fear from which there may be no escape.

I had to read this book over twice, to resolve how I felt about it. It's a dark book, replete with violence, that I wouldn''t recommend for everyone, but it is a book one must appreciate for its gritty and unflinching portrayal of life in extremely harsh surroundings,amidst poverty, drugs and crime. The narrator, sixteen year old Hailey Trosclair struggles to resolve her conflicting feelings about God, her parents and her best friend's boyfriend. A meeting with the charismatic but sinister Moses begins a chain of events for Hailey and her brother that lead to shocking consequences. And as she increasingly realizes that God may not be listening, she decides to help herself and her family the best way she can.

The book has some great characters - each flawed, far from wholesome,yet humane. Hailey's parents squabble and neglect her, yet willingly set their issues aside for her sake. Moses, before he reveals the violence he is capable of, is seen as a doting son and father. And Hailey's brother Cyrus, even as he plunders graveyards for statues, remembers to steal some flowers for his mother.

I especially liked the character of Hailey, a confused teen struggling with thoughts '
crawling around like roaches in her head'. She is gutsy and smart, with a head for facts, yet capable of some really bad choices. She just may have the intelligence to get to college and make a life for herself. She displays a compassionate streak, as when she goes to confront the husband of the woman her father is involved with, only to find him near death. Most of all, when she finally does what it takes to defend her brother, she saves his life but only by setting herself up for a far greater fall.

I can't say I loved the book, but it definitely stayed with me for a while. There were times when I wondered if a character would have indeed spoken a certain way, or used a specific word. And towards the end, the book feels rushed, as if we were being hastened towards its dark end after a series of slower paced chapters. I wasn't entirely convinced with the way things turned out either, with the convenient presence of a weapon or even Hailey's decision to meet Moses. Yet, as Hailey reflects on her 'tiny black soul' at the very end, I couldn't help but be moved.

In the end, redemption seems as unlikely as the miracles that Hailey has prayed for.It might have been easier to wrap this book up with a neat, happy ending. The fact that the author chooses to do the opposite makes all the difference.


  1. Great review! This seems like one of those books that gets better the longer it stews in the back of your mind -- I think a lot of classics are like that.

    I thought 3 Musketeers was fun while I was reading it, but a week or two after finishing it, when I was unable to really get into another book because I was still thinking about the characters, turning them over in my mind, I realized I had a much greater respect for the book that I did when I finished it!

    Also, it looks like you're new to the blogosphere, (I only see a few posts in your archive) so let me welcome you to book blogging! It's a blast!

  2. Hi Meg. I'm not sure this is a classic, but hey, who knows.
    Thanks for the welcome, and yes it is a blast. Can't believe we didn't think of this earlier.